Today marks the tenth anniversary of Heath Ledger's death and, even a decade later, his performance as the Joker in Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight stands as one of the most iconic in movie history.
From the unnerving, sarcastic applause the Joker gives the announcement that Gordon (Gary Oldman) had been promoted to Commissioner to the eerie and unique way the Joker spoke, Ledger's take on the classic Batman villain remains the gold standard and, according to Nolan, while he was aware of parts of how Ledger planned to approach the character, so much of it was a surprise even to him. The filmmaker told BBC Radio 1's Movies That Made Me, Ledger kept much of what he did with the Joker to himself.
"A lot of what Heath did he would discuss with me, he'd sort of give me hints of what he was going to do and we'd talk about it a bit and I would try to be an audience for him, sort of gauge with him what he was doing but a lot of it was about unpredictability and I think he wanted to play his cards a little close to the chest," Nolan said.
As Nolan reflected on the film and Ledger's performance, he further explained that Ledger didn't reveal his take on the villain all at once. Instead, Nolan said Ledger's Joker developed a piece at a time and much of the time even he as director didn't know what to expect.
"He would very gradually reveal to me the voice and the way he was going to do things, but not in one go, not 'here's the Joker,'" Nolan explained. "We sort of watched him develop it with the wardrobe and the makeup and everything. I got to be a part of that creative process which was great fun, but on set there were always moments like that clapping or things he would do with his voice. His voice was always so unpredictable."
Ledger sadly died January 22, 2018, just months ahead of the premiere of The Dark Knight, but his haunting performance was among the most acclaimed parts of the well-received film. Ledger was posthumously awarded the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for the performance, an honor that Nolan said he was proud to have not just been a part of, but proud that Ledger's legacy was honored and remembered with the achievement.
"I took huge pride in having been in any way involved with this great performer, this legacy," Nolan said. "He was an extraordinary person, an extraordinary actor and for him to be recognized in that way I think it was very meaningful for his family and meaningful for film history that what he contributed, and he contributed in many different ways to film history, but that it be marked in that way I was very proud to have been part of that."
Ledger's iconic performance as the Joker will return to the big screen, albeit in a limited run, in celebration of the film's tenth anniversary. Theater chain Showcase Cinemas will screen The Dark Knight on February 8th and 11th. The film was also released on 4K Ultra HD as part of a Christopher Nolan 4K Collection in 2017.
The Dark Knight currently has an 89.1 ComicBook.com Composite Score. That's the highest ComicBook.com Composite Score of any comic book movie.
The Dark Knight also has a 4.47 out of 5 ComicBook.com User Rating. That's the highest ComicBook.com User Rating of any comic book movie.
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